The 16-year-old driver of a car that crashed into a tree near Alexandria in June, killing his three back-seat passengers, tested positive for marijuana, but there’s debate about what that means.
The State Highway Patrol turned over the results of both the toxicology and crash-scene investigation to the Licking County prosecutor’s office on Monday.
No charges had yet been filed against the driver, Jaylynn Rigio, 16. Licking County Prosecutor Ken Oswalt said that it might be a couple of weeks before a decision is made.
“Now that we have an answer as to what was in his system, we need to determine what effect it had on him,” Oswalt said.
The State Highway Patrol’s investigation also revealed that Rigio was driving at speeds estimated to be between 76 and 82 miles per hour when the car flipped and struck a tree, top first, on Hardscrabble Road, a rural two-lane road in Licking County.
The car, a 2003 Mitsubishi Diamante belonging to Rigio’s grandmother, split in half upon impact, flinging the back half into a farmhouse yard, with the front spinning out onto the road.
Killed were Michael Hoskinson, 17, Linzie Bell, 15, and Cheyenne Spurgeon, 15.
A front-seat passenger, Ashton Cody, 16, and Rigio were injured.
The five teens were en route to a favorite area swimming hole. Lt. Kevin Miller, the Granville post commander, said that toxicology tests on the three passengers who were killed showed no detectable traces of drugs or alcohol.
Rigio had earned his driver’s license only two months earlier. Ohio law prohibits a 16-year-old driver from transporting more than one passenger unless a parent is in the vehicle.
“I don’t see any issue with him being charged,” Oswalt said. “It’s a matter of determining what level of charges the evidence supports.”
Oswalt said that becomes more difficult in cases involving marijuana.
State law says that a person can be charged with driving under the influence if the concentration of THC, the marijuana metabolite revealed in testing, exceeds 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood.
Rigio’s blood tested at 45.7 ng/mL.
Rigio’s attorney, Rob Calesaric, said the State Highway Patrol is applying the wrong interpretation of Ohio’s complicated DUI statute.
He said the 5-nanogram level applies only if prosecutors can prove that Rigio was under the influence of marijuana at the time of the crash, and “they have no evidence of impairment. I don’t see any evidence of marijuana consumption that day at all.”
Calesaric said that without proof of impairment, the state minimum is 50 ng/mL, which Rigio didn’t reach.
Determining whether the presence of a marijuana metabolite in the bloodstream was a contributing cause of the accident gets complicated.
“The effects of marijuana are not as well established (as the effects of alcohol) on performance impairment,” Oswalt said.
Oswalt cited a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration fact sheet that said, “It is difficult to establish a relationship between a person’s THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects.”
Still, the fact sheet says that “marijuana has been shown to impair performance on driving simulators and open and closed driving courses for up to about three hours.”
By Eric Lyttle - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
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